Peace be with you

 Peace be with you. Jesus came and stood among them & said “Peace be with you”.

Every day we all either read the papers or watch the television and see some of the nastiest material ever seen – its called the News.  People are dying today in Israel, Ukraine, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mexico, Yemen – they are dying of famine, war, cold blooded murder & still we wonder how much more we are going to have to bear to watch.  What’s wrong with this world?  What’s the cure for the sickness that we seem to have?  How can we find God’s peace amongst all the suffering & evil?  Why should we believe in a God that lets so many bad things happen?

The truth is that God has done something about the evil and suffering, over 2000 years ago he sent his son into one of the world’s worst trouble spots – Palestine.  He grew up a much-loved child of lowly parents; he became a carpenter like his father and lived in a country occupied by foreign troops.

He lived surrounded by violence, poverty, disease, in fact Jesus spent his life bringing the love & peace of God to ordinary people like you & me.  He healed the sick and was not afraid to touch disease and those that religious tradition saw as unclean, untouchable and unlovable.  He simply showed them that God loved them if they believed, all they had to do was turn to God, – that simple, that precious.

But his saving acts made him powerful enemies, the authorities were frightened & threatened & angered by his power & so they set out to bring him down. Last week we watched with mounting dread as Jesus was arrested, beaten up, verbally abused and handed over to the occupation troops.  They took him to the local killing ground and put him to death.  If there had been an evening news on TV on that Friday, even though crucifixion was commonplace, this death would have made the headline story.

The life and death of Christ are real today; we’ve felt the pain of the dark hours of Good Friday up to the glorious resurrection on Easter day.  A real Jesus was nailed to a real cross and shed real agonising blood for us, – never has a death been so precious, never has a death been so world shattering, never have we needed his peace as we have needed it during the last 2 weeks.

As Christians we can’t turn our backs on human suffering. Jesus’ crucifixion shows us that something has gone terribly wrong with the human race but it also tells us that God has done something that has changed our lives forever.  The problem with suffering & evil doesn’t just stop on the TV screens.  It’s easy to point at all the horrible news stories, the on-going war in Ukraine, the murder of young children at the hands of those who are supposed to love them and say “that’s the problem with the world today!”.  But the problem, the real pain is in our hearts.  John tells us that Jesus said “ From the inside, from a person’s heart, come the evil ideas which lead him to do immoral things, to rob, to kill, commit adultery, be greedy and do all sorts of evil things”.

So the bible is not just honest about human suffering & the evil in the world, but it forces us to be honest about ourselves. We have to ask Peace at what price?  In 1867, Alfred Nobel invented a new high explosive which he named dynamite.  He was convinced that dynamite had made war too horrible ever to happen again – but he quickly discovered that there was no shortage of buyers for his new explosive & went on to make a vast fortune out of his invention.  At the end of his life, he left the profits to fund the 5 Nobel prizes that included the Nobel peace Prize – funded by the sale of high explosives – some peace!!

All sin causes a catastrophic breakdown in relationships including ours, the knife crime & violence in our streets, child abuse, racial hatred, corruption & marriage breakdown.  But the worst casualty in the chain is the breakdown in our relationship with God.

Cut off from his love we feel the pain of separation, without him our lives have no purpose or meaning.  This is not how God planned it, he created us to live in a relationship of love with him, filled with his peace, but instead we run away & hide from him as if we were allergic.  We can’t face him in our weakness, but he knows that that is when we need him most and he never gives up on us as we give up on him.

John’s gospel reminds us that “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”.  If we get lost in the darkness now, what hope is there for us?  Some people see no hope in any direction, – tragically, they give up & sink into despair.  Others just try to blot it out by escapism – Barbara Windsor bless her was famously quoted on the radio a few years ago said “People can’t stand too much reality – that’s why we have soap operas!

Longing for real life & desperately looking for a meaning, some people get tangled up in their own web of destruction – drugs, drink & general body abuse.  Sadly those of us who watch them know that such addictions cure nothing, they only serve to create even more problems & despair.  Those who can’t live without drugs & drink also can’t live with them, all they produce is a transient chemical dream – a mirage in a waterless desert where all their relationships collapse.

Others get addicted to work & success.  Diaries bulge with appointments, meetings every night, bank accounts get fatter, cars more flashy, but they don’t achieve happiness.  Like mountaineers, millions of people display enormous courage, ingenuity & determination to get to the top of their career pathways but all too often all they find at the top is emptiness when they get there.

It takes huge courage sometimes to dedicate your life to Christ, he knows it is difficult for us; he just quietly waits for us to pluck up the courage to take the first steps & not to look down until we reach the top of the mountain.

The troubled in the world will only find God if they truly want him.  Proverbs tells us God’s words “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me”.  And in Jeremiah God gives this cast iron promise “ I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you & not harm you, plans to give you hope & a future.  Then you will call upon me & come & pray to me, & I will listen to you.  You will seek me & find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Jesus saw his life as a rescue mission; he said that he’d come “to save what was lost.”  He also said that his death was no accident, – that he’d come onto this earth to die.  Mark tells us that ”The son of man didn’t come to be served but to serve, & to give his life as a ransom for many”. Through Jesus, God became human & lived among us.  In other words, Jesus shows us God getting involved with the real world, getting his hands dirty for us – & for his efforts he got those hands nailed to a cross, & he did it so that we could be set free from the power & devastation of sin.

Like all common Roman prisoners, Jesus was marched out to be crucified carrying the cross beam of the cross on his shoulders, his arms tied behind the beam, walking bent double with the pain & the sheer weight of the wood.  It was as if he was carrying a banner, a giant sign shouting the awful truth understandable to the whole world, a truth that we can never forget, that it was our sin, The sin that lies at the heart of us all, that put Jesus on that cross on Good Friday.TThe cross proves God’s incredible response to human suffering; he takes our sin on his shoulders. Jesus, although he was completely innocent & without sin, was made “sin for us”. Jesus put our sin & wickedness on that cross beam & in so doing, released the power of God’s mercy, forgiveness & healing to anyone who would come to him & simply ask for it.

The story, thank goodness didn’t end on Good Friday at the crucifixion, if it had, the cross would be the eternal symbol of crushing defeat & despair.  On Easter morning, Jesus not only destroyed the power of sin on the cross, he also destroyed the power of death.  On the 3rd day, God raised him back to life, triumphant over darkness & death forever.  Jesus, the gentle carpenter from Nazareth turned the wood of the cross into the door to eternal life for us – the cross has transformed our lives, changed darkness to light, death to life, hate to love, chains to freedom, fear to faith, brokenness to wholeness, agony to peace.

Jesus is alive and with us now in this place.  Our sins have been forgiven, against the power of Christ on the cross, the forces of evil are finally defeated.  We know Jesus’ own words “ I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one goes to the father except by me”. But hanging on the cross, Jesus appeared anything but powerful.  Laughed at by the crowds, denied & deserted by his friends, tortured by the soldiers, he slowly bled to death, but hanging there he became the cosmic centre where all evil and goodness meet.  In his dying, he overcame evil, setting lose new powers of righteousness and resurrection.  Evil, death, guilt & fear were conquered by the saving power of God’s love that was released to everyone as the lifeblood of his son ebbed away.

So how can we know God’s power for ourselves? How can we be sure of finding this love, which is to transform our lives?  Unless we actively seek his way, we are like 2 skydivers who jump from a plane at 15,000 feet. Both are wearing parachutes, but one of them folds his arms, ignoring the ripcord, saying to himself “I am perfectly safe because I have a parachute on my back”.  He of course is still saying this as he hits the ground at 150 miles an hour.  The other skydiver knows that to benefit from the chute, he has to do something to help himself, & pulls the ripcord & of course lands safely.  That’s a bit like us, we know about the Christian faith, but until we ask for His help & commit ourselves to him, we’re in free fall with a closed parachute – we need to pull the ripcord before it is too late.  The words on the ripcord say this “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”.  There’s no alternative, we can’t fly, we can’t save ourselves, but Christ is all that we need for our safety.

Faith is not something that some have & others don’t.  It’s action & commitment.  Faith is an act not a feeling.  You decide to believe, Jesus has never failed us & won’t fail us now.  The ripcord’s in our hands; in Romans the bible tells us that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  It only takes one believing call, spoken in the simplest of words to Christ, asking for forgiveness & salvation & the parachute to salvation is open for us.  Through Jesus we’re coming home, we are moving out of darkness into the brightest of dazzling light, he told us “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away”.

So as we go forwards from this Low Sunday, look for his Peace in your lives. And may His peace be with you always.

Alison J Moodie 9th April 2023